Entrepreneur’s Tools for Success

Entrepreneur’s Tools for Success

‘In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow, wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.’
~ Socrates, in Plato’s Phaedrus
First question of course is to ask if I am qualified to write about this issue. Let me tell you how I started and let you decide if you want to read beyond that account.
I have been an entrepreneur, formally (in the sense of owning my own business) since 1994. I started business however while I was still in a regular full-time job (in 1983), with the full knowledge and blessing of my employer and paid for it by working on my business during my vacation and unpaid leave. 
I worked at learning and building a management consulting business for 12 years. I invested every available paisa (cent) on books and train fares (3rd class – a bare wooden plank for a seat) and every available day of vacation leave, interning with one trainer or another. I did not take a single day off in 12 years. Then in 1994 I started my own company (Yawar Baig & Associates www.yawarbaig.com ) in Bangalore with all of Rs. 3000 ($ 60) in my pocket and a dream in my heart, of becoming an internationally recognized leadership trainer with a global business. That in my view is typical of being an entrepreneur – to dream of things that never were and ask, “Why not?” This is 2013, 13 years after my first international assignment. Today I have a business with clients on three continents.
It is this innate aspiration for excellence that I believe is at the root of all successful entrepreneurial activity. It is the desire to differentiate. To be different in a positive way. To stand out from the crowd; not to blend in with it. To express your identity in a unique way such that it is recognized and honored. That is the meaning of ‘Branding’. Without that you are a grain of rice in a sack. Excellence is to take responsibility not only for your own well-being but that of others. To lead others on the road which will not only help you to make your dream come true but to weave the dreams of others into the fabric so intrinsically that when they look out on the achievement of your vision, they will also see their own visions becoming reality. To leave behind a legacy by which you are remembered with affection and your passing regretted. Entrepreneurship is to always act with this consciousness about the long-term effects of our actions. To be willing to give an account, because we know that we will be held accountable.
Entrepreneurship is all about spirit. It is recognizing that you did not come into this world either randomly by accident or by your own choice. Your parents did not choose for you to be born. I believe that we were sent and we were sent with a purpose. When we discover that purpose we enter a state of grace. A fish out of water is the most clumsy, awkward creature in the world. It can’t move, it flops desperately, it gasps for breath. But the same fish when you put it back into the lake disappears like a flash – the epitome of grace, speed and beauty. When we are in our appointed task we are like a fish in the water. The world conspires to help us to succeed. But first we must recognize our purpose and then we need to consciously accept it. That is the scary part. But that is the threshold that must be crossed to demonstrate that we are in and not out. Without crossing the threshold of owning responsibility for our own lives, we can’t expect anything to happen.
We are never compelled to make one choice or another. But the doors that open, the vista that unfolds before our eyes and the road that beckons ahead all depend on the choice that we make. Behind each door is a different destiny. We get to choose which one we want to open and walk through into the world that it opens for us. 
Choices are not always easy. As a matter of fact, all the important ones are difficult. The most difficult thing is to choose between two apparently good alternatives. But the choice must be made. Everything else depends on that. We complain about difficulty. We forget that difficulties come to test us so that the prize can be given once we surmount the difficulty. Success goes to those who can overcome difficulties. Each difficulty resets the bar and creates a new definition of excellence without which we would have been lulled into a false sense of security which hides fatal flaws. Only winners get medals, remember? Those who fail are relegated to the garbage pile of the detritus of history. 

It is from this background that I have tried to conceptualize and share with you, what I like to call my tools to success. They are:

1.     Prayer
I discovered the power of prayer. Of asking the One who has the power for His help. Prayer gave me (and continues to do so) a chance to have a private conversation and to ask Allah for what I needed. He knows what that is better than I do, but being able to ask and knowing that He listens and helps gives me the strength that I need. There is an enormous sense of peace in standing in the night in prayer after having done all that is in one’s power, asking for those decisions to be sent down without which all one’s effort will bear no fruit. I am aware of the same sense of communion that the farmer feels when he has tilled the land, made the furrows, spread the fertilizer, sowed the seeds and then looks towards the heavens and raises his hands asking for rain, without which all his effort will be in vain. Yet when he raises his hands, there is no fear in his heart, only hope. And there is a smile on his face. For he is looking for the clouds to come once again, bearing rain as they have done again and again in his life. So also, as I stand, I remember all the times that I have been guided, gently away from what I wanted, to what was good for me though I had not realized it at that time. I was aware that Allah knows, He cares and He has the power to do what it takes. I am content in the fact that I have done my part and made all the effort that I could. Now I stand to ask for His help, confident that He will do what is good for me, even if it means that in a given situation I will not get what I want. My life’s experience shows me that every time that happened I was given something better. Prayer gives me strength in the dark silence of the night which otherwise is the home of fear and confusion.
2.    Discipline and Routine
Anxiety creates disorder and disorder enhances fear. A vicious circle that debilitates energy and invites despair. So, the first thing to ensure is that you have a routine and to stick to it with dogged discipline. I had (and continue to have) fixed times to wake up, sleep, eat and for all major activities including reading, writing and the gym. A timetable creates order and predictability in a life that for the new entrepreneur, is suddenly devoid of the usual office routine. Working from home can create lack of discipline that masquerades as freedom. This is very dangerous. I used to dress for work, even though I was going into the next room to do it. Structure is the most powerful aid to fight anxiety.
3.    Physical Fitness
Adrenalin is the best natural energizer. And you get a lot of it on the treadmill provided you sweat enough. The gym is an absolutely fixed part of my day. I would go to the gym at mid-day because I was relatively free then. But on the days when I was teaching, I would go to the gym after work, which sometimes meant at 10 in the night. Nowadays, I spend an hour walking briskly and alone in the KBR Park in Hyderabad, which is a national forest.  One thing for sure; I do not go to bed unless I had my daily adrenaline fix. Exercise is both a physical and psychological booster and I benefited hugely. Another thing, at least in my case, I think better when I am walking. So, when I have some complex problem to work on, I go for a walk. By the time I have walked a few miles, I would have worked it out and it becomes clear. Whatever be the physiological reasons for this, I know it works for me. Try it out. Walking out in the open in a forest, if you can manage it, is the best for the fresh oxygen you get and for the lovely variety of flowers, birds, insects and trees you get to see. Gym in comparison is boring, so I prefer the forest.

4.    Financial Discipline
The best thing about being poor is that you learn to prioritize. Prioritizing is not always painless. Sometimes it is very painful when you must choose against something you really would have loved to have. But you learn to choose based on what is important and what gives a return. You also learn to be very careful with what you have and to see how you can make your rupee/dollar do the most it can in more than one way. Waste becomes a synonym for death and re-cycling the norm. You learn to depend on other things than the brand of shirt or watch you wear as indicators of your status or worth. You learn to make all your resources count – sometimes several times before they are used up. You learn the importance of planning and information because it helps you to save. The mountain men of the American frontier were crack shots with the long rifle because they were very poor and had to learn how to make every bullet count. They simply could not afford a wasted shot. For my wife and I, when we lived in Bangalore from 1994-97, there were some months in the first year when I did not know if we would have enough money to pay the rent. But the Grace of God ensured that we never defaulted. My wife is a phenomenal manager of home finances and I have always had the good sense to stay out of it. Tight financial control, prioritizing and planning are all learnings; the benefits of hard times.
5.    Self Development
This is a very tough one but in my view, it is the single most powerful differentiator – what do you invest in your own professional development? Talking of investing in learning without any guarantee that it will ever yield a return, when there isn’t enough money to put food on the table, sounds ridiculous. That is the reason many people subscribe to this thought in principle but do nothing about it in practice. That is a very expensive bargain. I would identify a training course that I wanted to take and then save up for it month by month. Then I would take the time off (which for the entrepreneur has a cost value) to take the course. I set myself a target that I would do at least one course every year, preferably a certification course. After some years, I ran out of certifications that I wanted to take but the annual course routine continues. The benefit of all this was that this strategy gave me a clear edge over my competitors which I never lost. My clients got used to seeing my resume change every year with additional certifications, papers, articles, books. Not that they necessarily gave me business in the new areas but the thought that they were hiring someone who was focused on his own development was a big differentiator in my favor when they were comparing consultants.
Another thing which I did in this line of self development was to write and publish. Every year on an average I write more than 15 papers, 40-50 articles and every two years I publish a book. Writing is the single most powerful tool to develop thinking ability, which in my line is the soul of business. The ability to think clearly and strategically is always helpful no matter what business you are in, yet it is something that most people only do accidentally. Writing helps to structure thought, it forces you to express it in the clearest way and it helps you to put yourself in your reader’s mind. Writing also gives you credibility like nothing else. We have a respect for the written word and those who write and if you can write well (anyone can write well if they try) then you will find that you add value to yourself as well as to your image while clarifying issues in your own mind. Writing also gives you exposure in the best possible way and your name becomes known widely. Writing gives you both visibility and credibility; a big advantage. These are my tools. I hope they will help you as they helped me. If they do, pass them on.
6.    People
Lastly but by no means the least important is the skill of dealing with people. No matter how talented, powerful, resourceful, energetic, knowledgeable, sexy or beautiful you may be, you can’t and will never succeed without help. Help from people who see the fulfilment of their dreams in helping you. That in one line is your task as an entrepreneur or leader. How can you make them dream your dream as their own? It is not about explaining. But about helping them to link with your heart and see themselves in your dream. Only then will they own it, work for it, invest in it and help you to succeed. This is what every great leader in history did. As Nelson Mandela said, “Speak to their hearts, not to their minds.” As I say, “Show them what’s in it for them.”
Many entrepreneurs, especially technology experts believe that their technology supercedes everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

In the end, the success of technology depends on the success with which it is marketed. Stories abound about good technologies that never saw the light of day because their promoters didn’t have the people skills to take them to market. Entrepreneurs need people skills like fish need water. They need the skill to relate to different constituents of their environment in different ways. The way to relate to venture capitalists is not the same, as the way to relate to the techy team that is working on the project. The way to relate to your own business partners is not the same, as the way to relate to customers, especially for a product or service which is still untried. But all these are necessary and necessary simultaneously. Too often entrepreneurs forget this and think that their technical knowledge will see them through. It won’t. This is not to decry or discount the importance of technical knowledge and skill. But it is like imagining that to win the Indy 500 all you need is a fast car and driving skill doesn’t matter. You need a fast car alright. No amount of driving skill will enable a Maruti to beat a Ferrari. But without driving skill, you will never beat your competitor’s Ferrari because he is not driving a Maruti.

There are four main skills the entrepreneur needs to learn. Inspiration or motivation, presentation or communication, networking and conflict resolution. It is not in the scope of this article to go into them in detail. But in all of them there is an underlying theme which is to enable the other to see what is in it for them. All these skills need a high degree of engagement with others, be it the people who work for you, customers, potential funders, government officials (often the most difficult and non-productive engagement but must be done) and your own family and social circle. The fine line to walk is to help them to help you. To show them how working with you and for you will help them to achieve their own goals. This means that you must have a very good knowledge of what motivates them, what their issues are and have a genuine desire to help them. I say genuine because acting can’t be sustained. This is most visible in networking which many people believe is a way to use other people. It isn’t. It is an opportunity to build genuine bridges of mutual benefit which work for both parties. Only these last. The best networking people I know are genuinely helpful and look for opportunities to help others who they don’t need and in many cases, will never need. But their work gets noticed and gratitude is contagious. So, when they need someone, people come out of the woodwork for them. There is no substitute for sincerity and sincerity wins hearts.
One final word:I want to underline the importance of conceptualization. The reality of life is that raw experience teaches us nothing. What we do with it, is what matters. What we don’t conceptualize we don’t learn. Just being alive is not a condition for the acquisition of wisdom. It is how we live, what we do with what life presents to us, how we change ourselves and how we teach; these are what make us wise. But to do anything at all with raw experience we must take time out and go off into a quiet place physically and in our minds and reflect on what happened.

We need to do that reflection objectively even mercilessly and ask the question, ‘So what did I learn?’ Sometimes the learning may be painful but it is the only way to avoid further pain. It is the only way to make amends and control any damage that our action or the lack of it may have caused. Sometimes in the process of conceptualizing one needs outside help; an objective listener who can give feedback and help to draw the lessons that we need to learn. It is only such learning which is useful and which can be related onward to others. But for all this we need to allocate time and as I said, develop the ability to go off into the quiet place in our mind. I have always been very conscious of the need for this and build this ‘time-out’ into my annual routine. I consider it an investment in myself and benefit from it hugely so I take it very seriously and don’t grudge the cost that is often involved.

Now hold on a minute; reflection time does not always have to mean climbing mountains or secluding yourself in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. It can be done very adequately and at no cost on your daily commute, provided of course that you are not enslaved to your phone or iPod or whatever. Whatever else you do, you need to eliminate noise and invite silence if you want to achieve anything in this line.

I am one of the most ‘connected’ people in the world and have always been keenly aware of the edge that connectivity gives you. Yet when I am away on these retreats, I shut down totally except for emergencies. I’ve worked very hard to be in touch with myself and to listen to my inner voice; to be at peace with myself without the need for some noise or the other constantly intruding into my mind. This ‘stillness’ is not to be confused with lethargy or boredom.

This is the stillness of the hunting leopard which is crouched in the grass just before the final assault. She appears to be carved in stone. Not a muscle twitches; you can’t even see the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes. Her every sinew is taut to its maximum torque, waiting to be released in the explosion of speed that will catapult her onto her prey before it can properly register what’s happening. She is totally still, totally focused, totally aware of everything around her and everything inside her. This is the moment of highest awareness that one can get, the moment before the leap. That is stillness.

One of the reasons why many people today can’t get past first base when it comes to conceptualizing is because they are unable to focus onto something long enough. It is supposed to be a characteristic of the present generation, ‘The Millennials’. I say, ‘Most welcome’, because it will be so easy to compete against people who can only give partial attention to anything. But for the world that is dangerous as it is distracting. Imagine being led into the new world by people who are only partially tuned in. I think people today are afraid to think and reflect and therefore seek refuge in endless activity. Without depth or breath of knowledge how can anything of value emerge? Strangely even the protests that we see today have no depth, no ideological underpinnings. They are like adolescents throwing tantrums because someone did not give them their toy. That is why they are easily satisfied with the immediate, even when it is abundantly clear that it is coming at the expense of their own future.

Most young people read nothing or very little, other than their course syllabus. Almost nobody reads the classics. Almost nobody reads, writes or quotes poetry. Conversation is a badly linked chain of monosyllabic grunts, words which say something but are supposed to mean the opposite (very bad means very good, believe it or not) and an endless repetition of non-words to describe every conceivable situation and experience. Words reflect thought and depth of intellect. But for this generation a vocabulary of 50 words seems to do very well, thank you very much. It is as if all the enormous effort of human thought and civilization has been suspended in limbo perhaps to be read by those who come to pick up the pieces and then wonder how people who knew so much could have done this to themselves. Nothing that I know which is worth achieving can be achieved with partial attention. Excellence demands total attention and focus.

It is impossible to think seriously and consider things in a structured framework seeking beneficial conclusions, if you have some noise-making instrument plugged into your ear all the time. This is the downside of technology today which is the trap that some of us fall into and are unable to control. So, our minds are taken over by the disc jockey, talk show host, news reader, social media updates and alerts, propaganda artist or advertiser to be molded at will and steered into channels of their choice, to think the thoughts they want us to think and come to the conclusions they want us to come to, irrespective of whether or not such conclusions benefit or harm us.

As I mentioned, I think best in the open, in the middle of nature and when I am engaged in some physical activity, so I go trekking or to a wildlife sanctuary or mountain climbing where I spend part of the day in the activity and the rest in reflecting on my life, sitting beside a free standing, solar powered, self-propagating, shade giving, oxygen generator which we so easily chop down to make still more toilet paper. If you still did not recognize the description, try the word, ‘Tree’. In the nights, I read books that I take with me after careful consideration. I have always read two or three books simultaneously and enjoy holding their various themes in my head simultaneously. The mind, like the body, improves with exercise and considering different concepts, sometimes divergent ones is an excellent way to challenge yourself. Reading has always been and continues to be a significant and hugely beneficial activity in my life on which I spend substantial time, energy and money.

This reflection is not a random activity leading to sleep. It is a structured pre-planned activity that I do as follows. Before I go off on these retreats, I ask myself some questions:

1.      In the last period (since the last retreat) what were my best & worst experiences?
2.     What are the lessons that I am hoping to learn from them?
3.     What are the most difficult potential blocks to this learning that I can foresee?

Then when I have finished my climb to the top of the hill, I pour myself a hot cup of tea and reflect on each incident/situation and jot down my thoughts as they occur. Once the thoughts have dried up I then read what I wrote and analyze to see what I can learn. All this needs discipline and practice but can be easily learnt and is a huge benefit. Especially to top it all is the fact that sitting on a hilltop watching the sun setting on the horizon, with a forest and all its sounds at your feet is just about the most enjoyable way that I know, of spending an afternoon.
Triple Talaq – Why are women fighting for it?

Triple Talaq – Why are women fighting for it?

Question: Why is it happening? Why are women protesting the abolition of triple Talaq when it is something that they should welcome?

Answer: Emotional knee jerk reactions born out of fear. You see the problem is that Modi and the Government have a very bad image, quite rightfully. So, anything that is seen as coming from them will immediately get rejected. Also, we have always had a high aversion to anyone who we consider an ‘Outsider’ saying anything about our law, more so about trying to change it. 

People must distinguish between two facts: Nobody can change a law that someone else made. But they can say that it will not be recognized in the land where they rule. That is essentially what the Supreme Court means when it says that it doesn’t recognize triple Talaq. It is not changing the law because within the Islamic Shari’ah it has no authority to do so. However, it is saying that it, as the Supreme Court of India, doesn’t recognize this law, will not follow it, will not rule in accordance with it, will reject it if a case comes before it and declare the divorce, so given, to be invalid. All this, the Supreme Court, is at full liberty to do. To illustrate, what do you think will happen if an American Muslim gives triple Talaq to his wife in America and she goes to court? The judge will rule that it is invalid. Will you say that American law has banned triple Talaq? They will do the same with Talaq Ahsan. With Nikah, with inheritance, with all Islamic laws as they don’t recognize them as valid in their land. 

So also in the case of the Supreme Court; what ‘not recognizing or banning’ means in effect is, that if a man gives his wife Talaq by pronouncing it thrice in the same sitting and she accepts it, there’s nothing more to be said. But if she goes to court, it will be overturned and not recognized. This is already happening. That is what I meant when I mentioned the Shamim Ara vs State of UP case of 2002. The Supreme Court declared the Talaq given in the past invalid. What was that Talaq? Triple Talaq. What the AIMPLB should have done is to implead itself and challenged this judgment. They didn’t do that. That remains to this day, 14 years later. Subsequently the courts have ruled according to this judgment multiple times and there is not a single instance where a court ruled that the triple Talaq given in one sitting was valid. 
That is also what is meant when they say that Supreme Court ‘banned’ triple Talaq. Banned means that the court has declared this law to be invalid in its sight – meaning that the court doesn’t accept it as a law. The court can’t go into every house to enforce it. But if a case comes before it, this is what it will rule. As I said, this is already happening and anyone who wants to test it, is welcome to go to court to see if it will protect the triple Talaq in one sitting. 

Muslim women are protecting the triple Talaq because in public they don’t want to look like they are criticizing Islam. I am with them in this respect. In public I also say, ‘Hands off’, to everyone else. However, what must happen in private is some education, which is lacking. Education about what marriage is, what Talaq is, about the rights of inheritance of women (brothers swallow their sisters’ rights and their wives – who are also women – support them). Education about treatment of women, about domestic violence and men oppressing women. Education about the Shari’ah itself that there are two parts to it – A Divine part and a Juristic part. Most people don’t understand this and think that everything in the Shari’ah is directly revealed in the Quran. It is not. Ijtihad has always played a very big role in the evolution of the Shari’ah. It is only in the last 150 years of so that the doors of Ijtihad have been shut. Don’t ask me why.

That is incidentally where the so-called Ghair Muqallideen came from. When you shut the doors of Ijtihad, everyone becomes a Mufti. When those who have the knowledge and the responsibility to do Ijtihad refuse to do it (whatever be their reasons) then those who have neither the knowledge nor the authority, start to make rules. Whose fault, is it? When Muslims talk about reforms in the Shari’ah, nobody means that the Quranic or Divine part should be changed. If any Muslim says that, then they have denied the validity of the Qur’an and thereby they have left Islam. But the same sanctity doesn’t apply to the Juristic part. The Imams of Fiqh are not Allah or His Messenger. They are Ulama. Their service to the Ummah is unquestioned. And that service is that they did things which were essentially not present at the time of Rasoolullah to make the application of the Divine law current and easy for people. And they ruled on matters which were new and for which you can’t find answers in the Qur’an and Sunnah. While doing this naturally the basic rule is that the new ruling must not violate the Word of Allah or the Ruling of His Messenger

Imam Shafee codified the Usool of Fiqh and built his Fiqh and legal teachings on the foundations of the principles and methodology he expounded in his book Ar-Risalah. In his book, al Bahr al Muhit, al Zarkashi (d 794 AH) devoted a chapter to this, in which he said: “Al Imam al Shafi’i was the first to write about Usul al Fiqh. He wrote the Risalah, Ahkam al Qur’an (Legal Interpretations of the Qur’an), Ikhtilaf al Hadith (Conflicting Hadith), Ibtal al Istihsan (The Invalidity of Juristic Preference), Jima’ al ‘Ilm (The Congruence of Knowledge), and al Qiyas (Analogical Reasoning)-the book in which he discussed the error of the Mu’tazilah group, and changed his mind about accepting their testimony. Then, other scholars followed him in writing books on al Usul.” This is one of the greatest example of Ijtihad. Another is the classification of the Sunnah into Muakkadah and Ghair Muakkadah.
Imam Abu Hanifa introduced the term ‘Wajib’, differentiating it from Fardh. There are many other examples of Fiqhi terminology that didn’t exist at the time of the Sahaba but which today we accept unquestioningly. All these are examples of the very dynamic and healthy tradition of Ijtihad in Islam. 

The Imams of Fiqh introduced terms like Makrooh and further, Makrooh Tahreemi wa Tanzeehi. The Sahaba would have looked at you in amazement if you mentioned Makrooh Tahreemi wa Tanzeehi to them. For them there was only Halal and Haraam. The concept that something can be prohibited yet not punishable in the same way, was foreign to them. Either something was permissible and you did it. Or it was not and you abstained. But that something was not ‘really’ permissible but you could still do it if you liked and you would not be punished in the same way as you would have been if it had been Haraam; would have been totally foreign to the Sahaba. The classic example of this is the difference of opinion about smoking between the Ulama of India and the Middle East. For the latter, it is Makrooh Tahreemi. For the former it is Haraam. However, cigarettes are not mentioned in the Quran or Sunnah.

Interestingly while claiming that the doors of Ijtihad are shut, modern Ulama have chosen to make Ijtihad in some areas. For example, in ruling that women are not allowed in Masaajid. Today this is the standard ‘ruling’ of all Hanafi and Hanbali Ulama. However, Rasoolullah’s hadith in Bukhari states clearly, ‘Abdullah ibn Umar ® narrated from Rasoolullah who said, ‘Do not stop the women slaves of Allah from the Masaajid of Allah.’

In another narration Salim ibn Abdullah ibn Umar said, I heard Abdullah ibn Umar ® say, ‘I heard Rasoolullah say, ‘Do not stop your women from the Masaajid when they ask your permission to go there.’ His son (Abdullah ibn Umar®’s son) Bilal said to him, ‘By Allah we certainly will stop them.’ Abdullah ibn Umar ® turned towards him and cursed him in very bad language, I never heard him abusing anyone like that and then he said, ‘I am informing you of something from Rasoolullah and you say, ‘By Allah we certainly will stop them?’ In yet another narration also in Bukhari, Abdullah ibn Umar ® said, ‘Rasoolullah said, ‘Do not stop the women from going in the night to the Masaajid.’ 

There is plenty of evidence to show that women and children went to the masjid in the time of Rasoolullah and the Khulafa Rashida and that it was only much later that the prohibition was brought about. The Imams of the Zahiri school like Ibn Hazm and others have held that the command to establish Salah doesn’t differentiate between men and women and so both are obliged to pray and to pray in the masjid if that is possible. And that to go against the Hadith of Rasoolullah to allow women to go to the Masaajid, claiming that conditions had changed, was not permissible.

It is later that others ruled based on various reasons they gave and the basis of a Hadith where Rasoolullah said, ‘It is preferable for women to pray at home’, that it is not permissible for women to pray in Masaajid. They did this despite the many Ahadith where Rasoolullah commanded that women must not be prevented from going to the Masaajid even though it is well known that a command supercedes a permission or preference. I will not go into the juristic arguments and justifications for these rulings or say anything about what is right or wrong, but I have quoted this to show that there is a difference between Divine command and juristic law. This means that the door of Ijtihad was wide open. So, what happened to that suddenly?

That is the question in the minds of all thinking and reasoning Muslims and on the tongues of those with the courage to verbalize their thoughts. I am quoting this case as one which proves that Ijtihad was and is done to this day when it is seen as necessary. I submit that in the case of triple Talaq it is certainly necessary. The ruling that triple Talaq in one sitting is valid, is itself Ijtihad and it was done to help women and punish men. So, what is the problem with changing it and going back to the ruling in the Qur’an and Sunnah when we see that the very purpose of this ruling (to punish errant men) is no longer being achieved? What is the need to stick to a Bid’a (Talaq-e-Bidat) when we have a Sunnah (Talaq Ahsan) which we can and should follow?

In short if our Fuqaha exercise their authority to make Ijtihad and re-look at the issue of triple Talaq, which is not a Divine ruling but a juristic (Fiqhi) one, the matter can be easily resolved. Imam Ibn Taymiyya did that and ruled against it already. Interestingly, as we speak, Hanafi Ulama send cases of triple Talaq to Ahle Hadith Ulama to be resolved knowing well that they will rule that the three Talaqs are equal to one and so the marriage is not dissolved. Yet they (Hanafi Ulama) will not adopt this ruling publicly. Even more amazingly Ahle Hadith Ulama have sided with the Hanafi Ulama of the AIMPLB in this case, thereby going against their own ruling which they follow. What that does to their credibility is something that only they are impervious to. None so blind as those who choose to blindfold themselves. Truly the ways of the ‘learned’ are wondrously mysterious. May Allah have mercy on us all.

Triple Talaq as it is used in India is an oppression of women. The arguments which have been used in its favor make no sense at all and have made us the laughing stock of the nation. That the number of women affected by it are few or many makes no difference. A law must be just for everyone. People may ignore the law and be unjust and they will then be culpable. But if the law is itself unjust, then you can’t fault people for what happens. Triple Talaq in one sitting goes against the Ayaat of the Qur’an and the rulings of Rasoolullah. We need to rule according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. Whatever happened in the past which led to triple Talaq being recognized (we are all aware of the historical issues) was valid then in the circumstances of 7th century Arabia. Its purpose was to help women and punish errant men, as I have mentioned earlier. This is not happening in India any longer so that very purpose (Maqsad) of the Ijtihad is not being fulfilled. To treat triple Talaq as one or to remove it altogether will once again fulfill the purpose of the ruling which was to protect women from being exploited. It is the duty of our Ulama to consider this seriously and act. 

Only Divine law is valid for all times and places. Juristic law is changeable and came into being because change is permissible. If juristic law is not working in a place and instead of protecting the very people it was designed to protect, has become the means of their oppression; then it must be changed. It is our Ulama who must change it. Nobody else has that authority. I hope we can persuade our Ulama to do what they also know they must do.

It is shameful for us as Muslims in India that a secular body like the Supreme Court needs to intervene to force us Muslims follow the law of our own religion.
Normalizing Terror

Normalizing Terror

We are free to choose but every choice has a price.

“Hate: It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved a single one yet.” Maya Angelou

We seem to be living in times when some people appear to be bent on challenging this law of nature – that fire burns and the result is always ash.

The way people handle catastrophic news is as follows:
Shock > Grief > Anger > Hope > Faith
If, this cycle is interrupted, then a new ending happens. The new cycle becomes:
Shock > Grief > Anger > Hope > Despair
Beware the man who feels he has nothing to lose. Crime can be prevented. Crime must be prevented. As they say, ‘prevention is better than cure’. In the case of crime this is even more important because like the case in point above, nothing that can be done now will ever restore the lives of those who were murdered for no reason other than they belonged to a particular religious group. I didn’t put it like that because I am reluctant to use the word ‘Muslim’, but because Muslims are not the only ones at the receiving end. We had Sikhs killed in their hundreds (maybe thousands) when Indira Gandhi was assassinated and Congress was in power. They still await justice. We have Dalits who have been killed for decades and nobody even talks about justice for them. We had churches burnt, priests and nuns killed, one burnt alive in his car with his two little children. They still await justice. We had Muslims who were killed all over Gujarat in 2002 (one among hundreds of so-called riots all over India). We had two terms of Congress government rule thereafter but the victims still await justice.
What I am trying to say is that what is happening in India today in the name of ‘cow vigilantism’ or extremism, is not new. Neither can the responsibility of it be laid at the door of the BJP alone. It is true that it is BJP in power today and so we look to them to ensure that justice is done and good governance is not sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. But that was and will always be our expectation from any government in power. Governments are supposed to govern. When they don’t, the country loses. Not any individual or group, but the whole nation. Where the loss is likely to be irreplaceable, it is even more important to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place.
This is why a strong system of crime investigation, community participation and swift justice plays a very powerful role in keeping the victims from the brink of despair. As long as people know that they have a viable alternative for redress of wrong, they will take that option every single time. But when they begin to see from experience after experience, that criminals always get away, crimes go unpunished, there is no hope for justice, compensation or retribution, then they fall into despair. Take the latest breaking news about the killers of Pehlu Khan, the dairy farmer who was slaughtered while he was legally, legitimately and justifiably transporting cows to his dairy farm.
I have no comments to make as I didn’t handle the investigation. All I can say is that Pehlu Khan didn’t commit suicide or drop dead on his own. He was killed. Before he died, he recognized and named his killers. So, if they are not guilty, who is? That is what the police and the State are supposed to find out and bring to book.
If Pehlu Khan’s case was a Pehli-bar, then one wouldn’t be so concerned. But this is like a broken record, or a bad penny (choose your own proverb), it seems to happen every time. I can name incident after incident but don’t want to waste space here or your time. You know all the incidents that have happened. All with the same ending, nobody is guilty of the crime. Today there is a lot of justifiable concern to prevent radicalization of youth. What is needed is a frank assessment of what leads to radicalization and acceptance of the fact that it is lack of law enforcement and swift justice that leads to people falling into despair. That is a downward spiral that has only one end.
India is a land of contradictions. The only constant is diversity which we tolerate only by force. However, we are very comfortable living with complete contradictions as we live in compartments in our minds. Let me give you some examples: In India, we worship the woman – as a goddess – of everything from wealth, to fertility to knowledge to music to power. But have no problems demanding dowry from the bride for the favor of marrying her and then burning her alive (or murdering her in other ways) if the dowry is not enough or if we simply decide later that we want more. Incidentally this is an Indian issue, not a Hindu one. Muslims for whom taking dowry is Haraam, do so under different pretexts, trying to deceive God and man. But they deceive nobody except themselves.
Of late, rape has become a national pastime with our august politicians saying in effect, ‘Boys will be boys. Girls must not provoke them by dressing immodestly.’ Another said, ‘It is the effect of eating a lot of noodles.’ He was from Haryana where evidently, they eat a lot of noodles. Muslims like to proclaim loudly for all those who care to listen that Islam treats women and men equally and gives rights to women that they don’t have in many modern countries to this day. But they remain silent on the fact that Islam gives women these rights but Muslim men don’t. So, Muslim women continue to be deprived of what their religion guarantees them.
Take food, which today has literally become a matter of life and death in our country. Beef is the main course in Kerala, Goa, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya (all Hindu majority states) and prohibited, banned, proscribed, Haraam in Kashmir (Muslim dominated state). But in UP, MP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, if you say the word ‘beef’ without due respect, as determined by the Gau Rakshak (Cow Protector) who hears you, you will be summarily slaughtered without any problem or inconvenience to the slaughterers. Never mind that nobody in their right minds slaughters milch cows or buffaloes. It is bulls, male calves, or old cows which have run dry and are past yielding age which are slaughtered. That is an economic need of the farmer who can’t afford to keep and feed them, so he sells them. Anyway, none of these logical arguments makes any sense. Nor does the fact that despite the fact that Gau Rakshaks rule the roost, India continues to be the largest exporter of beef to the world. How that is possible in a country where even if you talk about killing a cow, you will pay for that with your life, is, like the Indian Rope Trick and the Water of Ganges magician’s tricks, an enduring mystery.
We worship snakes but slaughter the first one we see. We talk about Vasudev Kudumbakam (whole world is one family) but protect, uphold and propagate the caste system. We have Lord Aiyappa on his hilltop residence to visit whom you must necessarily, by his order, first pay respects to his Muslim friend, Vavar Swamy (resemblance to my name is accidental), whose temple (why a temple to a Muslim?) is at the foot of the hill. Millions do it, but it is Open Season on Muslims all over.  
I can go on endlessly but I won’t. Why is this important? Because it shows up in attitudes in the workplace, society and politics. The ability to hold two opposing ideas simultaneously in the mind is a sign of intelligence. The ability to hold two opposing values simultaneously in the heart is a sign of hypocrisy. In this we are very skilled and entirely at ease. 

The question is, where will this lead us. It is a rhetorical question to which I am sure we all know the answer. 

Terror is fire. 
Fire always burns. 
And the result is always ash.

Now what?

Gauri Lankesh was executed. What else do you call a bullet in the forehead? We know why. The question to those who did it and those with whose support they did it is, ‘Now what?’ 
The problem with using ‘ultimate’ strategies is that when they fail, you have nothing left. Ultimate strategies also indicate another fatal flaw, that you are desperate. Nothing is working. So, you try the last weapon in your arsenal, the most powerful which came with a warranty to destroy all in its path. You fire it. You wait. The explosion fades. The smoke blows away. The dust settles. But just as you are about to heave a sigh of relief, you hear a voice, then another, then another; just like the one you tried to silence. And you stand there, smoking gun in hand, empty magazine, wondering, ‘Now what?’

Sad to say this is not new. According to CPJ 41 journalists have been killed in India since 1992.  https://cpj.org/asia/india/ As a culture we are not tolerant and benevolent as our PR likes to portray us, but are highly intolerant and vicious and brook no dissent to the dominant narrative.

Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” If only we read and try to learn from history. But then those who killed Gauri and those who are engaged in manufacturing fake news or earning their living as internet trolls can hardly be blamed for reading.

History is replete with incidents of attempts to muzzle the voices of truth and justice. Anyone who reads history can only come to one simple conclusion, that ideas must be responded to by ideas. Arguments must be met with counter arguments based on facts and logic. Not by shouting, screaming, accusations, threats or bullets. But as I quoted Hegel, ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history.’ That is why another quote which is attributed to so many people that I place it before you, crediting all those who may have said it, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
 The purpose of all such attempts at intimidation, be it the tirade against Hamid Ansari or Amir Khan or the final step of the murder of Gauri Lankesh, is to create such an atmosphere of fear that people will censor themselves. Make such an example of those who refuse to be intimidated that the rest of them will learn a lesson. What those who propound that theory fail to ask is the final question, ‘What lesson will they learn?’
Take the situation today in this country. We had a nation which was quoted in the world in terms of its economic growth and its glowing future. Admitted we had our flaws, don’t we all? But we could stand in the middle of the chowraha (traffic intersection) and criticize the government without any fear of reprisal. Our Prime Minister was a scholar in his own right, an economist, a teacher and a man respected worldwide. Yet we could call him Maun Mohan Singh referring to his famous refusal to speak on different occasions without the fear of his devotees jumping down our throats. Freedom was the key word in our country, including the freedom to urinate in public, but that is another matter. Today that is the only freedom that seems to have remained if I am to go by a video that someone sent me of someone relieving himself in the Delhi Metro. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m244-kV_h8A
Today however, we have a situation where a young boy is murdered in a train filled by people including police officers and when the crime is sought to be investigated, there are no witnesses.
We have the father of an Air Force Officer, murdered on suspicion that he had beef in his fridge. We have a man slaughtered in broad daylight for transporting a cow for his dairy business when he had all the relevant permissions to do so. We even have officials of one state (Tamilnadu) officially deputed to transport cattle, assaulted and injured for doing their duty. We have a young man in Pune, lynched because he was wearing a cap. The instances of public lynching by what are called Cow Vigilantes are so many now that listing them is not possible here. The instances of online intimidation and abuse are myriad and instantaneous. What is remarkable and should be remarked on is not the incidents but the fact that they all go unpunished. No government can prevent crime totally. But any government worth the name must investigate it and bring the culprits to book. That is what a government is for. It is for governing. Not to dictate what people must eat, how they must dress, what they must and must not speak, who or what they should worship, but to govern the country in a way that citizens are safe. The government is not responsible for the incident but for what happens or fails to happen thereafter. That is what a government exists for. When crime goes unpunished, it spawns more crime. But of course, if the definition of crime is changed, then a crime is no longer a crime and the government is free from blame.
Safety and terror are both buzzwords today which are guaranteed to get attention. The problem is that today safety seems to be guaranteed for those who spread terror. While those who are being terrorized are not even allowed the freedom to mention it, no matter how mildly. Ask Hamid Ansari.
Will the murderers of Gauri Lankesh be apprehended and hanged? Will the murderers of Akhlaaq, Hafiz Junaid, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh and dozens of others be similarly brought to book? Will I stop asking stupid questions?
When this government came to power in 2014, it did that on the promise of economic development. As the country with the largest number of people in abject poverty in the world, it is economic development that we need like a blood transfusion. That is why we elected this government. But what did we get instead?
Demonetization which destroyed thousands of livelihoods, impoverished those living on the brink, sank SME’s which are the backbone of society, wiped out the savings of the poor and did nothing to the black money and terror funding that it allegedly was aimed at. Anyone who knows anything about economics could have predicted this and many did. But this ‘surgical strike’ (not my coinage) on the economy was done with such swiftness that predictions had no meaning. Then came the implementation of GST. Another body blow to the economy that took down those left standing after demonetization. An initiative with noble intentions but the way it was done was to create confusion and despair albeit giving rise to a completely new multi-crore business of GST Advisors.
What we were promised was development, Sab ka Saath Sab ka Vikas. What we got instead was apartheid, oppression and for those who dared to raise their voice, intimidation and murder. What we were promised was Ache Din. What we are now promised is New India. What we were promised was elimination of black money, bringing back money from Swiss bank accounts and depositing money into the accounts of all Indians. What we are now promised is Cashless India. What we were promised was development for all Indians. What we are now promised is….

Well, as Hegel said, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” My question to myself and you is, “Do you want to prove him right or wrong?”
Dhan ki Baat

Dhan ki Baat

I read this article with great interest.

The final sentence is salutary. I want to add that whether governments or judges guard or curtail rights will depend on what we, the people, do about it. Active citizenship is not something that we are used to. We are still used to being the ‘ruled’, looking up to our elected governments (even calling them) our ‘rulers’. That they are not rulers is something that still remains to sink in, both in our consciousness and theirs. So, they behave like feudal lords and we behave like serfs. We even have terms that stink of feudalism to this day, used by our administrators e.g. Collector’s Peshi, Girijana Durbar, etc. There are many others but this is sufficient to illustrate.

That they exist because we put them there, will help us to understand our own responsibility for whatever is happening in the nation. Then we will change from being complainers to solution seekers. That is the real meaning of democracy, which I hope we will be able to demonstrate.

Take the much mentioned ‘demonetization’. I am not going to talk about its economic effects. Many, more qualified than I, have analyzed it threadbare and all that our media has been able to say is that it will not affect BJP’s chances of being elected again in 2019 because Modiji has changed his narrative. Little do they realize what that sounds like. Is election a matter of someone creating or promoting a story and the listeners reacting to it like rats to the pied piper’s tune? But that is the result of living in two worlds, democracy in theory (in the mind) and feudalism in reality. As I mentioned, economists have written about demonetization and time has shown the truth of what they wrote; that it was a body blow to the economy for no valid reason at all.

What is far more significant in my view is the attitude and behavior around demonetization. It was a step taken by the in secrecy even from closest aides, all of whom expressed surprise before slipping their masks back on again. It was declared as a step taken by the Prime Minister on the advice of a man who is not a cabinet member or even in government. All to prevent owners of black money from escaping.

We are told that the PM believed him and took this step almost unilaterally and issued a proclamation that from midnight of November 8, 2016. Kings issue proclamations. Not elected leaders. Elected leaders consult their council of ministers and in a matter as serious as this, they consult a larger cross section of leaders of the public (Opposition), perhaps even the public themselves. After all, the two excuses for demonetization; curbing black money and funding of terrorist activity’ are laughably inaccurate, as subsequent events have shown beyond all doubt. That is why the narrative was changed to, ‘We did it to make the country a cashless economy.’

Why would you change a narrative unless it had failed? After all, the earlier one of ridding the country of black money and terror funding and paying loads of money into the bank account of every Indian citizen sounded so much more exciting than saying that it was an exercise to support banks and credit card companies. Even more especially when the earlier statement was made so powerfully: http://www.abplive.in/india-news/demonetisation-even-if-you-burn-me-alive-i-am-not-scared-says-narendra-modi-445603 Burn me alive?? Drama sells.

So why change it? Incidentally, can I see a show of hands from all those who received cash in their accounts from the government as a result of return of black money including that secreted in Swiss Bank accounts? Political parties need not respond because after all the sweetest part of the change was that donations to political parties were sought to be exempted from disclosure.  That is when I decided to start my own political party, Tan Man Dhan Mukti Morcha – TMDM² ©. All donations welcome.

Well, India became cashless, but perhaps not in the way that the term ‘cashless’ is meant to be understood by the spin doctors.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask the housewife who saved small change from spending money that her husband used to give her, for thirty years and had Rs. 3 lakhs. Suddenly, on November 8, she was promoted to the status of a black marketer, money launderer (take your pick or invent your own names). Her legitimate savings, the symbol of our culture of family responsibility, caring for the future of others, the very spirit of motherhood, became illegitimate for her. On the face of it, all she had to do was to go to a bank and exchange it for the nice new colorful notes. But in reality, she would have had to open an account, get a PAN card, deposit the money, answer a million questions about where she got it from (all based on the assumption that she got them through illegitimate means) and pay tax on it. Tax on money which her husband had already paid tax on. And of course, she would have to answer to her husband (in many cases, a fate worse than death) about how she had all this money but never told him about it. That is how she entered the cashless economy by becoming cashless herself. As I mentioned, I am not talking GDP or economic numbers. I am talking about the izzat (honor, self-respect) of honest people, their feelings, family dynamics, domestic power equations and the disempowerment of ordinary people, especially women.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask those who died, standing in queues at banks. Of course, the dead tell no tales. India is perhaps the only country where something like this can happen, not once or twice but over one hundred times, unremarked. That nobody is called to account is not surprising when there is not even a demand that this should be done. I stand in line at the bank. Someone in the line before me, drops dead. They remove him. I move ahead one place and thank god for small mercies. What’s remarkable? I am told that I am doing it for the nation. I am a vegetable, fish, eggs, banana seller, standing in line hoping that the bank will not give me a hard time asking me to open an account, PAN card and whatnot. I have enough to worry about. If someone dies in the line, well, what can I do?

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask the people who had no notes to exchange because all their savings were in the bank already. But after November 8, when they wanted to withdraw some cash, they were told that they couldn’t do so. Officially there was a limit to what they could withdraw. In reality, they couldn’t withdraw anything at all as the bank had no currency notes to give out.

“How long will this last?”
“God knows”, said the banker.
“How can you stop me from withdrawing my own money?”
“I am not stopping you. This is the instruction we have received.”
“What can I do?”
“God knows”, said the banker.
I go to the grocery store with my new colorful Rs. 2000 note. I need groceries worth Rs. 500.
“No!” said the grocery store owner, “You need groceries worth Rs. 2000; you just don’t realize that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t have any change to give you. No notes. So, take your change in cabbages or eggs. Just keep and eat them.”
“How long will this last?”
“God knows”, said the grocer.
I can report more such conversations but won’t. I think this illustrates and all of you will recall your own experiences which match mine. That is why there’s a shortage of atheists in India. You really need to believe in God.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask those who till the land, labor from dawn to dusk on construction sites to feed their families, who sell food, provide services and add real value to people’s lives. Ask the Istiriwala (mobile clothes ironing person), the Doodhwala (milk vendor), the Bayi (maid) who works in our homes, the Sabjiwala (vegetable seller), the Machiwala (fish seller); I can go on but won’t. Not one of them had a bank account. Not one of them had a PAN card. Not one of them paid Income Tax. Every single one of them had a family to feed. Every single one of them had some savings put aside for a so-called ‘rainy’ day. Every single one of them suffered for no reason except that in our Feudal-Democracy (my coinage, please give credit if you use this term), it was proclaimed without warning that his savings were illegal until proven legal. He was guilty until proven innocent.

One good thing that happened because of this demonetization which I am very pleased about. It was proven beyond all doubt that there is no corruption in India. After all, did you hear a single story of a policeman, income tax official, customs officer, bureaucrat or politician standing in a bank line trying to legitimize his bribe money? Did you hear of any of them dropping dead from exhaustion or guilt? So, what does it mean? It means that all that we always hear about corruption is nonsense. There is no corruption in India. Nobody takes bribes. All government officers and officials pay tax on all income, upar ki aur andar ki. Like elephant tusks and teeth, khanay kay alag, aur dikhanay kay alag. I will leave this untranslated in the spirit of the line of poetry:

Tum samajh sako tho aansoo
Na samajh sako tho pani
What is our, we the people’s, reaction to all this? Silence or complaining. In public, we are silent. In private, we moan and groan, we blame and crib. In both places, we take no action. And when we are asked why, we reply, ‘What can we do? We can do nothing.’ This warrants another couplet:
Kursi hai, tumhara yeh janaza tho nahin hai
Kuch kar nahin saktay, tho utar kyon nahin jatay? ~ Irteza Nishat

This brings me back to the beginning of my argument which is that if we want good governance in a democracy, we have to participate in it. Serfs have no choice and can complain. Citizens are not serfs, no matter what their elected leaders (called ‘rulers’ in India) may like to think. Citizens must act like citizens and take an interest in governance.

Today we have a situation where the Ruling Party is doing what it considers best for the nation. You can hardly fault them on intention. We have an Opposition which sits silently by and watches while it claims to be against the policies of the Ruling Party. Why? The Opposition is muzzled because everyone is afraid of skeletons in their cupboards being exposed. But what is the solution? Because in the end it is we, the so-called common folk who are paying the price; we and our children. True, we are paying the price of electing corrupt leaders for decades, but that is not a luxury we can afford. Shortsightedness is not an asset when you are driving a car at 70 MPH. Ours is going faster than that. No change without pain. Pain is not something you opt for but accept to escape death. Think cancer treatment. What is happening is worse than that. Cancer only kills you. This will kill you and your future generations. So, what do you want to do? Yes, you and me.

For all change begins with the man in the mirror.
Turkish Delight

Turkish Delight

There are four things that I have learnt in building a leadership consulting practice across the globe that are related to Customer Service. They are:

  1. The customer is not always right but the customer is always the customer.
  2. All rules related to customers must be clearly for the customer’s benefit.
  3. Good recovery after service failure results in more customer loyalty than good service which never fails because most people take good service for granted.
  4. A customer who complains is not a nuisance. He is someone who is interested in helping you to succeed by engaging with you when it would have been far easier simply to walk away.

I teach customer service to all kinds of global and local organizations which include, airlines, IT/ITES companies, hotels, hospitals, all kinds of service organizations, NGOs and the Police. In this connection, I collect real life stories of both heroic service excellence and failure. They help me to bring alive the lessons and to build credibility for myself, that I know what I am talking about. It also ensures that those mentioned in the stories get global exposure. I tell the story. The kind of exposure depends on what the actors in the story did. From my perspective therefore, both good and bad customer service experiences are useful and so I take them very seriously.

Below is one such story that happened to me in the last two weeks. I will leave you to decide what it was an example of.

On August 17, 2017, my cousin Mohammed Ahmed, I went to Abuja, Nigeria, to speak at a conference on leadership. My hosts kindly sent me a Business Class ticket on Turkish Airlines. Both of us normally travel only on Emirates but welcomed this change because it would give us an opportunity to stop over in Istanbul on the return journey. This was a ‘first’ for me all through; first time on Turkish Airlines, first time in Nigeria and first time in Istanbul. So, I was looking forward to it very much.

We left Hyderabad on August 16 by Jet Airways, reached Mumbai at 11 pm, spent the night at the airport and reported at the Turkish Airlines check-in counter at 3 am on August 17 for the Mumbai – Istanbul flight (TK 721) at 620 am. I am 63 years old and have a chronic back problem and am in almost constant pain, especially if I stand or sit for too long and if I lose sleep. The scheduling of this trip almost ensured that. The flight took off and 7 hours later, I was in Istanbul at 1035 am local time. I headed for the lounge and reached there after negotiating the milling crowds at about 1130 am.

Istanbul airport is clearly one of the busiest airports in the world and one of the most disorganized. The scene of people of multiple nationalities and races, some loitering, some parading, some taking the air and others rushing to catch flights is delightful to witness if you are a fly on the wall. But when are one of those milling, parading, loitering or rushing, it is anything but delightful. Clearly much can be done to channel traffic so that the movement of people is smooth, but that requires one presupposition; that Turkish Airlines believes that change is necessary. This story after all is about this, so read on.

We reached the Business Class Lounge, exhausted from lack of sleep and with my back aching badly. But I was not worried because my connecting flight to Abuja, TK 623 was at 6.20 pm, so I was looking forward to a good 4-5 hours of sleep in the lounge. Turkish Airlines proudly (and quite inaccurately) describes their Business Class Lounge as the ‘most luxurious and best’ lounge in the world. As I walked in, I thought to myself, ‘That’s because they haven’t seen the Emirates Lounge in Dubai.’ I know this will touch a lot of raw Turkish Airlines nerves, but seriously, they should take a look.

We headed for the Sleeping Suites. There is a plaque on the wall saying that these are for Business Class passengers only and only if you have a layover of 4-7 hours. I thought that the first condition was totally unnecessary to state because who, other than Business Class passengers are in the Business Class lounge, the entry to which is controlled and only on the basis of your boarding pass? Anyway, we felt confident as we satisfied both conditions. We were Business Class passenger and we had our boarding passes to prove it and our layover was from 11 am to 530 pm, when we would have to head off to my gate for the next 6-hour flight to Abuja.

I asked the lady at the desk if I could have a room to sleep. She pushed a laminated sheet of paper towards me and said, ‘Is your country on this list?’

‘I am from India and I came from Mumbai. They are not on this list.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Is Nigeria on the list?’
I looked very hard. It wasn’t. ‘No, Nigeria is also not on the list.’
‘Then you can’t sleep here.’
‘Madam, do you think Indians and Nigerians don’t need sleep?’
‘I am asking why Indians and Nigerians are not allowed to sleep in your suites.’
‘That is the rule. Is your country on this list?’
“That is the rule”, is a phrase that I heard a lot more of and learnt to appreciate as being in the nature of ‘inscribed in stone where reason, compassion, logic or God forbid, initiative, must all bow in submission.’ That is the rule.

I tried to explain to her that my flight from India was not 8 hours long but 7. But I am 63 years old with a bad back and had been traveling from 10 pm the previous night and desperately needed to lie down. If I sat for another 7 hours in the lounge and then a further 6 on the plane on the next leg of the flight, it would be disastrous for my well-being. But needless to say, my well-being was not on her priority list. She was the enforcer of ‘THE RULE’, no matter what it cost me or Turkish Airlines or anyone. While I admired her slavish devotion to her task; (I have always been totally incapable of slavish obedience to rules – strongly believing in using the brain that I have been burdened with) I was markedly incapable of appreciating it when it was being applied to me that day.

I tried one last time to appeal to any vestigial pity glands that she may have had and pleaded, ‘Madam, I am an old man with a very painful back. Can’t you relax your rule a little and allow me to lie down? There is nowhere else in this lounge for me to do that. Please!!’ That is when I discovered that if she’d had any vestigial pity glands, they must have been removed when they removed her appendix (my assumption), in a package deal – buy one and get one free – pay for the appendix and pity goes for free.

I decided to accept defeat. I don’t think I am capable of actually slinking away, but I did whatever was the next best thing and tried to find an easy chair at least, so that I could recline, if not lie down. There were none. There was the floor of course but there was also my ego and the ego won. So, I sat in a chair and contemplated life. It was then that I decided that I wouldn’t simply die without a fight and so recorded my experience on WhatsApp and sent it to a few friends. I have good friends. They sent it out of their social networks and called Turkish Airlines offices in their countries.

Very soon, as I finished some excellent mushroom soup, followed by Turkish coffee, I started getting many messages of support.

[8/17, 1:47 PM] Mirza Yawar Baig: The Delhi Turkish Airlines manager called me and told me to go there again and apologized for the refusal.

I went there again and they refused again.

[8/17, 3:35 PM] Delhi Turkish Airlines manager: Sorry for inconvenience. I think the flight timing is less than 8 hours but they were not able to explain you the situation correctly. (Meaning: It is your own fault you old goat!)

[8/17, 3:36 PM] Delhi Turkish Airlines manager: Please let me know when you fly next time so that we can make it up to you

[8/17, 3:43 PM] Mirza Yawar Baig: The issue is not about how long the flight is. It’s about how long the wait is and how tired you get. I’m 63 years old with a bad back. To sit for 8 hours is very tough. Then I have another 7 hours flying ahead of me. I’ve been up since 3 am yesterday and won’t reach my destination until 11 p.m tonight. Given a five and a half hour time difference you know what that means. That means almost 24 hours without lying down. I always travel Emirates. In the Emirates lounge, if there’s place in the sleeping suites, you can sleep. Nobody tells you rules. What’s the point of such a rule? Nobody sleeps unless they are tired and need the sleep.

As for making up to me on another flight, I appreciate your intention but I don’t think I’m going to take that chance again.

I tried once again to appeal to reason: [8/17, 2:12 PM] Mirza Yawar Baig: Please explain to your people that rest is a factor of age and strength. Not of the duration of a flight. When I was 24 years old, I took a flight from Hyderabad-Mumbai-London-New York-Miami-Georgetown, Guyana and I was bright like a light at the end of that. I traveled economy and it was in 1979. I traveled in a Caravelle, then Boeing 707, then a McDonnell Douglas DC10. I doubt that you’ve even seen those planes. I didn’t need sleep or a bed then. I do now but your airline has this rule of 8 hours flight. Makes no sense at all. What does tiredness or sleep have to do with the country or duration of flight? We’re all paying for Business Class. 
They’re not doing us a favor. So how can they discriminate?

But to no avail. I got the standard answer, ‘But that is THE RULE.’

A couple of hours later a man came searching for me, introduced himself as the Manager of the lounge and said, ‘We are very sorry for what has happened. I apologize to you.’ I was delighted at the fast result of my voice mail. ‘So, can I go there and sleep now?’

‘O! No. You see, that sleeping suites facility is handled by an independent contractor. Not us. All this is their fault.’

I asked myself if I was hearing right. I took three deep breaths and counted to ten. ‘Can you repeat that please?’ I asked him.

‘The sleeping suites facility is handled by an independent contractor. Not us.’ So, I was not hearing things. He did say that. I counted to ten more and another ten. He had a silly smile on his face as if to say, ‘You see, it was your own fault and now that you realize it, God is in Heaven and all is well with the world.’

‘I am sorry, I don’t see’, I said. ‘What I do see is that you are trying to pass off your service failure onto someone else. What do I care who you employ? Whose lounge is this? Turkish Airline’s or your contractor’s? As far as I am concerned, you have an illogical rule that must change. And your apology has no meaning because it doesn’t change anything for me. I still can’t rest my back. I still have to suffer the pain and indignity of facing discrimination, albeit now, knowing that you are ‘sorry’ about it. Who cares if you are sorry or not? Not me. Goodbye.’ He buzzed off and I sat for another two hours. Then I went to the gate for my flight.

In Abuja, I was met at the doorway of the plane by one of the smoothest talkers I have ever met, the Turkish Airlines Commercial Manager, Mr. Ahmet Murat Kanturk. He said to me, with great authority as if he had been an eye witness to what had happened, ‘We are very sorry for what happened, but you see, you didn’t understand the lady. She didn’t say you couldn’t sleep because you are Indian. We have to follow rules.’ And then he disappeared, having parked me on a bench before the office of the Immigration officer. It was 11 pm. I had been traveling for over 24 hours, given the time difference and had neither the energy nor the motivation to argue with him.

‘Ah!’ I said to myself. ‘They are sorry but the fault is mine. Not theirs of course. They have THE RULE to follow. Now why can’t I see this? Why am I being so stupid and blind. The fault is mine. It is always mine.’ But did I see it? Do you?

I had a lovely five days in Kaduna where we went from Abuja for the conference. Met some lovely people, ate great food and enjoyed some lovely weather. Then we were back in Abuja airport to take our return flight to Istanbul. Meanwhile my friends were not willing to let this thing go and they continued to put pressure on Turkish Airlines not realizing how tough and change averse they are.

Abuja airport is chaos in progress. It is an experience to be had at least once in your lifetime. I am sure it results in the forgiveness of sins. We had our dear friend whose name shall remain confidential who helped us to run the gauntlet of fire. We emerged unscathed at the other end which opens in the Business Class lounge. The first thing I saw there was a section partitioned off to one side with beautifully made, clean beds with pillows and blankets for anyone who needs rest. Curiously, though there were many of us in the lounge, it was only a mother with a baby who was using that section. No RULE, no list of approved countries, no restrictions on fight durations, nothing.

‘How boring!’, I thought to myself. ‘Turkish Airlines can teach these Nigerians a thing or two.’ Suddenly the Turkish Airlines manager appeared with his assistant in tow. He said to me in an accusing tone, ‘You have a lot of friends. I didn’t know you had so many friends. I told you we are sorry for what happened. Now send out a message saying that everything is settled and that you are happy.’

‘You want me to send a message that everything is settled and I am happy when nothing is settled and I am not happy?’

‘Ah! I told you we are sorry. Now listen, let me take a photo with you. I want to post it on my Facebook to show that you are happy.’ He promptly did that. I made a face. I said I was not happy, but he talked and talked. I pointed out the sleeping section in the lounge and asked him why they didn’t do that in Istanbul. He said to me, ‘There are ten thousand people landing in Istanbul. How can we give them all beds?’

‘You don’t need to give beds to ten thousand. Or even ten. Just give whatever beds you can and let people use them if they need them. What’s the problem? Why put rules that make you look bureaucratic (which you are) and racist (which you appear to be)? Nobody goes to sleep just for the heck of it, if they are not tired or sleepy.’

But deaf ears and an arrogant attitude which never accepts that you can possibly be at fault, are both incredibly effective in creating suicidal blindness which prevents all development or beneficial change. Having lectured me and refusing to see a good example of effectively dealing with the beds problem right under his nose, he disappeared, wishing me a good flight.

He said to me in a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die tone, ‘I will call everyone in Istanbul. Tomorrow they will meet you with a limousine, when you land in Istanbul. And now I must go. I will see you at the plane’. I looked for a bookie to place a bet of 1000:1 that I would never see him again. Sadly, there are no bookies in Abuja airport or I would have made a nice bit of money. It is beyond me, how people go through life, imagining that they have fooled others, when the only one they fooled is themselves.

The flight was scheduled to depart at midnight. We boarded. It was a Boeing 737, a small plane for a 6-hour flight. It departed late. We had dinner. At about 3 am, I started a nasty headache. I usually carry headache medication in my bag but didn’t feel like taking it out of the hat rack for fear of disturbing the sleep of my fellow passenger. So, I quietly got up and went into the galley and asked the steward if he had an Aspirin or Tylenol. He said to me, ‘I have the medicine but can’t give it to you.’

‘Ah!’, I said to myself, ‘looks like here we go again.’ ‘Why not?’, I asked him.

He said to me (yes, you guessed it), ‘According to our rules, I have to announce to see if there is a doctor on board. If there is, he will come here and prescribe the medicine.’

I asked him, ‘You mean that you will wake up the whole plane calling for a doctor to come and prescribe an off-the-counter medicine which you already have here?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I looked deeply into his eyes to see what he had been smoking. But surprisingly he was sober. So, here once again, was an apparently sane, adult Turkish Airline employee exhibiting his total, blind, unbending loyalty to THE RULE.

I said, ‘If you wake up the whole plane to call a doctor and he comes up here only to discover that I have a headache, he will not prescribe a Tylenol, he will kill me.’

Then I asked him, ‘What if there is no doctor on board? What then?’ To my great delight, that stumped him. I decided that 3 am was not the best time for such esoteric discussions and went to pull down my bag and get out my headache medication which I should have done in the first place. But then I would never have learnt about this brilliant Turkish Airline rule for those who are sick on board. I believe in that case I would have been less of a man than I now am. I also would have missed out a great story to teach for a class of cabin crew about on-board service challenges.

In due course, we landed at Istanbul. Sure enough on the que there was another bright young man, washed behind the ears, shaking me by the hand, saying, ‘We are very sorry for what happened to you when you were here. Do you want to meet my manager?’ I had just had a rough overnight flight and was in no mood to go to meet any Turkish Airlines manager to advise him about customer service. I told him that I would be happy to meet the manager if he would like to descend from his office to where I was. That didn’t produce any result. The man accompanied us out of the airport building and said, ‘There is the taxi stand. You can take whichever taxi you want.’ I was so delighted to know this. Truly as they say, ‘It is a free country.’ I could take any taxi I want. Didn’t know that. I bet you didn’t either.

Final episode, August26, I got to the airport in Istanbul four hours in advance because I had seen the confusion that reigns supreme. I cleared immigration and customs and reached the lounge. Yes, the same lounge. I was well rested after three great days of eating and sight-seeing in Istanbul. I picked up a drink from the dispenser and found myself a nice seat and read my book for the next three hours. Then just as it was time to go to the gate for my flight back to Mumbai, along comes the ubiquitous Turkish Airlines employee – they seem to have an endless supply of these young men who are willing to take the rap for their employers and bosses.
‘Mr. Mirza Yawar Baig?’
‘Salaam Alaikum. I was waiting for you at the sleeping suites and showers. You didn’t come. Do you want to come now and take a shower and sleep?’
Pinch yourself you stupid chump? No. I am awake. And I am actually hearing this. Just as I am ready to go to the gate, would I like to take a shower and nap? I think at this point, all comments, speculations and statements are redundant. I rest my case.

Turkish Airlines plays a promo when you board and land. It uses three terms with some very nice photographs of scenery. Wonder! Discover! Broaden your world.

I wondered what Turkish Airlines was like.
I discovered what it is really like.
I shall broaden my world by making sure that I always travel on other airlines.

To close with the final rule of customer service excellence: No matter how big you, the service provider are and how small the customer, in the end the customer decides your fate. Not vice versa.

Turkish Airlines doesn’t seem to understand that, much less believe it.
But that, O! People, is the truth.